THE birth of a critically endangered West African chimpanzee caught visitors by surprise at Chester Zoo.

The new baby was safely delivered in front of a handful of astonished zoo guests at around 5pm on Saturday, July 13.

It follows a seven-and-a-half-month pregnancy for doting mum, 27-year-old Alice.

Zoo conservationists say the new baby, a female which is yet to named, is in good health and is spending all of her time bonding with mum and other members of the 21-strong group of chimpanzees.

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Primate experts have hailed the youngster as a ‘vital boost’ to the conservation breeding programme for the species. It follows several years of scientific research which has carefully assessed the genetics of all chimpanzees in European zoos, confirming the make-up of the group at Chester as hugely important to the future of the species.

It is estimated that as few as 18,000 West African chimpanzees remain in the wild and it is the first subspecies of chimpanzee to be added to the list of critically endangered apes.

Mike Jordan, collections director at the zoo, said: “This new baby is a significant addition to this multi-generational chimpanzee group at the zoo - and a vital boost to the conservation breeding programme for the critically endangered species.

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“Alice and her daughter have bonded well and she’s doing a wonderful job of caring for her so far. A new baby always creates lots of excitement and Alice has plenty of support from some of the other experienced mums in the group, who are all keen to lend a helping hand.

“The youngster provides particular cause for celebration given the plight of chimpanzees in Africa. More chimpanzees are hunted for the illegal bush meat trade than are born each year, causing populations to plummet in the wild.

"Couple that with the fact that humans are destroying their habitats and it’s easy to see why these fantastic animals – one of our closest cousins – are being pushed towards extinction.

“This new arrival is a step towards changing the fortunes for the species.”

Conservationists at the zoo have been working in Africa to protect some of the world’s rarest chimpanzee species for more than 20 years.

The expert teams have helped protect one of the last major strongholds of the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee in Gashaka Gumti National park in Nigeria.

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